BRITTEN Albert Herring Northern Sinfonia/ Steuart Bedford Classics 70422: Review

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there aren't many major Britten works in which that theme doesn't crop up in some guise or other. Up to a point Albert Herring fits the pattern. But in this case, loss of innocence doesn't lead to destruction. The pure Albert, chosen as the village "May King" for his chasteness, gets riotously drunk, defies both his suffocating mother and the rural moral majority and, in the process, frees himself.

Does it work? Critical opinion is divided. The score, witty and affectionate as it is in earlier scenes, doesn't quite rise to the final triumph. But there is plenty of fine music in Albert Herring, with some first-rate characterisation: the moralising tyrant, Lady Billows, the solid but awkward Superintendent Budd, the sweetly twittering schoolmistress, Miss Wordsworth. The scenes with the lovers, Sid and Nancy, are touching (there isn't a lot of genuine love music in Britten). And this new version is so warm and high spirited that I found that I at least wanted to believe in Albert's emancipation.

Christopher Gillet is a likeable hero, and the village worthies are all good, especially Josephine Barstow (Lady Billows). Christopher Lloyd (Budd) and Felicity Palmer as the officious housekeeper, Florence Pike.

Steuart Bedford and the Northern Sinfonia approach the score with the love and care that have marked all their Collins/ Britten efforts, and the result is a fine addition to that series. Like their magnificent Turn of the Screw, it gives the lie to any suggestion that Britten's own recordings said it all.